giving back

Recording an audio book on a good hair day

The room buzzed with awesome people. Judy Maggio, an anchor for a local TV station, dropped her bag on a chair and said, “I have to move my car! Just wanted you to know I was here.”

Author Pamela Ellen Ferguson (Sunshine Picklelime) had just finished recording a session. “Louis Sachar is going to be here later! You’re in good company!”

I wondered if I could skip picking up my children from school to meet Sachar (HolesWayside School) as he would arrive the same time as the dismissal bell. No, my kids would kill me if they found out. We’d watched the movie of Holes together and later read the book at bedtime.

Mainly I worried I would have a coughing fit in the middle of recording Baby Dust, or more likely, burst into tears. At least I didn’t have to worry about how I looked. We would be hidden in little booths the whole time even though I was having a rare good hair day.

I was introduced to volunteers of Learning Ally, a local branch of a national organization that records books for use by people with dyslexia or visual impairments. They are currently in the middle of their Record-a-Thon, where local celebrities, authors, politicians, and others record one-hour sessions to raise awareness and help them fund the coming year.

“What is your book about?” one asked. “Is it a lovely little children’s book like Pam’s?”

I couldn’t bear to tell her that mine was about death.

I should have practiced saying the hard stuff then, though, as when Project Director Carter York led me to a booth to teach me how the recording would go, he said, “The first thing we’ll record is the dedication.”

Whew, boy. My little babies, all dead. Suddenly I wasn’t sure I could read a single page.

But Carter made the transition to reading the book super easy. I made mistakes, and laughing about them made reading the difficult material more bearable.

Afterward, I met some of the members of Learning Ally who actually use the services, listening to books that range from essential textbooks to beach reading. I wondered who might choose to listen to Baby Dust, and what circumstances they might be in. While my novel has been chosen as required reading for a college social work program in another state, I know it’s tough material.

I’ll be a regular at Learning Ally, which, I’m sure, is what they hope for from their Record-a-Thon.  I am thrilled at the opportunity to read my book aloud.

Before I left, staff took a million pictures. Me, in headphones. Holding my book. With volunteers. With another author. Someone whispered, “I should have done my hair!”

Yep, I was glad for the good hair day. And waterproof mascara.

A family displaced by wildfire

I am a photographer involved in the Recapturing Memories Project, an organization that pairs families who have lost their homes to wildfire with a photographer who provides a free family portrait session to mark their new beginning.

The first family I was given lived in the Tahitian Village area of Bastrop, one of the hardest hit. They invited me to come with them as they took their two daughters, aged five and seven, to the site of their home for the first time.

The Callaghans moved to Bastrop in 2007 from California, and purchased a home in the piney woods and two lots adjacent. Here is their home just a few months before the fires, after a rare Texas snow.

They had no idea they would flee this home just four years after their arrival, a harrowing drive through smoke and fire after rescuing their large collection of family pets. This was the scene just before they made their getaway through the neighborhood.

When they finally made it through and out into safety, they realized they wanted to move back to California to be near their family.

While all 15 of their animals were saved, only a few of them will be able to make the road trip to their new life. Others have been adopted by friends whose homes were unaffected.

They would like to take this stone with them, as it is the only surviving element of their actual house, but they fear it would weigh down the car too much, and requires equipment to lift and move.

I’ll be taking their happier family photo in and around the places in Bastrop they want to remember, as well as contacting all the photographers who photographed them during their time here, in hopes of recovering a few of the images they had taken while they were Texans.

Mostly I wish them happiness and peace in their decision to leave this behind them.

Portraits for families displaced by wildfires

Wow, it was quite a week after I posted my Bastrop wildfire picture, and it totally became what several news agencies called the “Iconic Photograph of the Texas Wildfires.” It was on the home page of CNN and is the opening image in this Red Cross video asking for help.

One of the things that came out of my sudden noteriety is helping a couple of East Texas photographers establish their new organization that provides family portraits to those who may have lost everything due to the wildfires. It is their hope to begin the process of building new memories and new treasured photographs for their family.

If you know a family who was affected by the wildfires, have them apply when they are ready at

I am only one of over 100 photographers in Texas and Oklahoma who are part of this effort. Our first act was to pool equipment, cameras, and props to give to a professional photographer who lost her entire studio to the fires.

Even if you weren’t affected, know that the Red Cross seriously depletes their money stores during disasters. You can donate to the Central Texas Red Cross by texting as instructed in the video, or by going to